The Liturgical Year: Saint Peter Chrysologus

detail of a painting of Saint Peter Chrysologus; School of Guercino, 17th century; Diocesan Museum of Pius IX, Imola, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsPeter, surnamed, for his golden eloquence, Chrysologus, was born at Forum Cornelii (Imola) in Æmilia, of respectable parents. Turning his mind to religion from his childhood, he put himself under Cornelius, the Bishop of that city, who was a Roman. In a short while, he made such progress in learning and holiness of life, that, in due time, the Bishop ordained him Deacon. Not long after, it happened that the Archbishop of Ravenna having died, the inhabitants of that city sent, as usual, to Rome the successor, they had elected, that this election might be confirmed by the holy Pope Sixtus III. Cornelius, who was also sent in company with the deputies of Ravenna, took with him the young Deacon. Meanwhile, the Apostle Saint Peter, and the holy Martyr Apollinaris, appeared to the Roman Pontiff in his sleep. They stood with the young levite between them, and ordered the Pontiff to create him, and none other, as Archbishop of Ravenna. The Pontiff, therefore, no sooner saw Peter, than he recognised him as the one chosen by God; and rejecting the one presented to him, he appointed Peter to the Metropolitan Church of that city, in the year of our Lord 433. At first, the deputies from Ravenna were dissatisfied at this decision of the Pope; but, having been told of the vision, they readily acquiesced to the divine will, and received the new Archbishop with the greatest reverence.

Peter, therefore, being, though reluctant, consecrated Archbishop, was conducted to Ravenna, where he was received with the greatest joy by the Emperor Valentinian, and Galla Placidia the Emperor’s mother, and the whole people. On his part, he told them that he asked of them but this, that since he had not refused this great burden for their salvation’s sake, they would make it their study to follow his counsels,and to obey the commandments of God. He then buried in the city the bodies of two Saints, after having embalmed them with the most precious perfumes: Barbatian, a Priest, was one; and the other, Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, whose cowl and hair-shirt Peter claimed as his own inheritance. He ordained Projectus and Marcellinus Bishops. In the town of Classis he erected a fountain of an incredible size, and built some magnificent churches in honour of several Saints, of Saint Andrew among the rest. The people had a custom of assisting at certain games, on the first day of January, which consisted of theatrical performances and dances; the Saint repressed these by the severity with which he preached against them. One of his expressions deserves to be handed down: He that would play with the devil, can never enjoy the company of Jesus. At the command of Pope Saint Leo I, he wrote to the Council of Chalcedon against the heresy of Eutyches. He answered Eutyches himself by another epistle, which has been added to the Acts of that same Council in the new editions, and has been inserted in the Ecclesiastical Annals.

In his sermons to the people he was so earnest, that at times his voice completely failed him, as in his Sermon on the Women healed by our Lord, as mentioned in the 9th chapter of Saint Matthew; on which occasion his people of Ravenna were so affected, and so moved to tears, that the whole church rang with their sobbings and prayers, and the Saint afterwards thanked God, for that he had turned the failure of his speech into the gain of so much love. After having governed that Church, in a most holy manner, about eighteen years, and having received a divine warning that his labours were soon to end, he withdrew into his native town. There he visited the Church of Saint Cassian, and presented an offering of a large golden diadem, set with most precious stones, which he placed upon the high Altar; he also gave a golden cup, and silver paten, which imparts to water poured on it the virtue of healing the bites of mad dogs, and of assuaging fevers, as frequent instances have attested. He then took leave of those who had accompanied him from Ravenna, admonishing them to spare no pains in electing for their Pastor him who was the most worthy. Immediately after this he turned in humble prayer to God, that, through the intercession of his patron Saint Cassian, he would mercifully receive his soul; and calmly passed out of this life, on the third of the Nones of December (December 3), about the year 450. His holy body was buried, amidst the tears and prayers of the whole city, near the body of the same Saint Cassian: there it is venerated even at this day; though Ravenna possesses and venerates one of the arms, which was enshrined in gold and gems and placed in the Basilica Ursicana.

Petition to Saint Peter

Holy Pontiff, who opened your lips and poured out on the assembly of the faithful, in the streams of golden eloquence, the knowledge of Jesus, cast an eye of compassion on the Christians throughout the world, who are watching in expectation of that same God-Man, whose two Natures you so courageously confessed. Obtain for us grace to receive him with that sovereign respect, which is due to a God who comes down to his creatures, and with that loving confidence, which is due to a Brother who comes to offer himself in sacrifice for his most unworthy brethren. Strengthen our faith, most holy Doctor! for the love we stand in need of comes from faith. Destroy the heresies which lay waste the vineyard of our Father; and uproot that frightful Pantheism, which is the form under which the heresy you fought, is still among us. May the Churches of the East abjure that heresy of Eutyches which reigns so supreme among them, and gives them the knowledge of the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation only to blaspheme it. Pray that the children of the Church may show to the judgments of the Apostolic See that perfect obedience, to which you so eloquently urged the heresiarch Eutyches in the Epistle you addressed to him, and which will ever be precious to the world –

“We exhort thee above all things, most honoured Brother, that you receive with obedience whatsoever has been written by the most blessed Pope of the City of Rome; for, Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own See, shows the truth of faith to all them that seek it.” (Letter 25)

– from the book The Liturgical Year: Advent, by the Very Reverend Dom Prosper Gueranger, Abbot of Solesmes, translated from the French by the Revered Dom Laurence Shepherd, Monk of the English-Benedictine Congregation, 2nd edition; published in Dublin Ireland by James Duffy, 15 Wellington-Quay, 1870